- Written by Joe Cronin
Nan Klinger, Founding Artistic Director of the Cuyahoga Valley Youth Ballet (now renamed Ballet Excel Ohio), was a pioneer of the concept of a pre-professional youth ballet company performing original ballets. An Akron native, her early ballet training was with her mother, Gertrude Holvey Harris. She also studied extensively at the American Theater Wing, and attended Kent State University.
Nan's first studio was in the basement of her home, where she taught ballet while raising her six children. An instructor during the early years of the University of Akron's Dance Institute, in 1966 she was chosen as one of forty ballet teachers nationwide for a Ford Foundation project to develop young ballet talents. This project included yearly professional adjudication of her students by the New York City Ballet. Nan's close contact with NYCB artistic director George Balanchine and his creative work with young dancers encouraged Nan to start her own youth ballet in 1975. In 2000 the Cuyahoga Valley Youth Ballet celebrated its 25th season.
Watch the video below of Miss Nan, former parents and students as well as her daughters discuss the importance of dance education and early life at the studio and the company.
Nan's teaching ability helped place many of her students in professional ballet companies in the United States and abroad. Northern Ohio Live honored Nan and the CVYB with an Award of Achievement Honorable Mention in Dance in 1990, '92, and '93, and in 2000 she received the Lifetime Achievement Award. In 1992 she led the CVYB on its first international performance tour in Taiwan as part of the First International Children's Festival, and in 1993 she received the Akron Woman of the Year Perseverance Award as part of Women's History Week Project.
In 2001 the dance community honored Nan by awarding her the Chautauqua School of Dance Artist Teacher Award in the amphitheater at Chautauqua Institution. Nan also received the OhioDance Award in Dance Education at the 25th Anniversary OhioDance Festival in Cleveland. In addition, the Akron Area Arts Alliance awarded Nan the Lifetime Achievement Award at its inaugural Arts Alive awards ceremony.
Miss Nan's goals for the CVYB remained constant: to teach talented children sound technical and artistic skills, coach them to use those skills in a professional-style performance environment, help them develop strong personal character, and develop young audiences who learn to appreciate and enjoy ballet.
Nan Klinger passed away on January 29, 2003. Miss Nan's love of ballet, her unerring artistic sensibility and creativity, her strength of character and determination will long be remembered. Over 230 young dancers have passed through the CVYB and graduates have gone on to professional dancing careers with Birmingham Royal Ballet, Miami City Ballet, American Ballet Theater, Cleveland Ballet, Pittsburgh Ballet, Ballet Florida, BalletMet, Boston Ballet, Richmond Ballet, Louisville Ballet, Fort Worth Ballet, Nashville Ballet, Memphis Ballet, Milwaukee Ballet, and Ohio Ballet. Other alumni are dance teachers or involved in arts programs across the country.